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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 879


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(12.34) —On behalf of the Government I respond to Senator Chipp's private member's Bill, representing as I do in this place the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) and the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes). Senator Chipp covered a great deal of ground in his remarks in introducing his Bill and has presented a good deal of factual material in support of it. I should say at the outset that the Government cannot , however, agree with many of his assertions-for example, his characterisation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's policy of flexible response-for the reasons I have given in answers to questions on this subject over the past few days. Nor can we accept his description of the role of the United States- Australia joint defence facilities or his assertion that nuclear war is imminent . As I have told the Senate on a number of occasions recently, the Government, while fully acknowledging the dangers associated with the continuing arms race, believes that the prospect of nuclear war should not be exaggerated. That was all too frequently a tendency of Malcolm Fraser during his tenure as Prime Minister. He regularly fantasised about the imminence of world war III. I do not think it helps the quality of debate on this very difficult issue to paint the picture in quite such lurid terms as have been commonplace to some contributions to the debate. The role and functions of the joint facilities in particular have also been made clear on a number of occasions, including in the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in the House of Representatives in June and in the pamphlet entitled: 'Uranium, the Joint Facilities, Disarmament and Peace' issued by the Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden, on 4 July.

Having said all that, let me make it absolutely clear that the Government nonetheless certainly agrees with the central thesis of Senator Chipp's remarks, which is that there are far too many nuclear weapons in the world today. It is a fundamental element of Australian foreign policy that the world's nuclear weapons stockpiles should be reduced and eventually eliminated. Australia's position has been to urge that agreement should be reached between the super- powers, which would lead to both qualitative restraints and quantitative reductions in nuclear forces and that there should be an early resumption of negotiations between the super-powers on the limitation and reduction of nuclear weapons. This position has been registered with both Soviet and United States governments. Australia is working actively-I will come back to this aspect later in my speech-in all relevant international forums, for the achievement of this objection. Let there be no doubt about it; this Australian Government is totally committed to complete nuclear disarmament.

But the Government also realises that we live in a real world. However horrible they might be, nuclear weapons cannot be wished away, and as the Palme Commission points out, complete nuclear disarmament will not happen overnight. The Government believes that every effort must be made to avoid an outbreak of nuclear war. It accepts that, in the interim and as a step along the long road towards the goal of total nuclear disarmament, stable nuclear deterrence and maintenance of the strategic balance are the only practical options available to avoid serious international nuclear instability and overt nuclear conflict until such time as a better system of restraint is in place leading to nuclear arms control and disarmament. I repeat that the Australian Government's international efforts are directed at doing everything within our means to achieve the objective of nuclear arms control and disarmament. This approach extends to the question of the possible development of a nuclear capability for Australia. The Government's position on this is clear and unequivocal. In the House of Representatives on 2 April this year the Prime Minister said:

I repeat that the commitment of this Government to the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, which has been made clear in this place and in this country by me, and internationally in many forums by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, is complete and unequivocal. Mr Speaker, you will understand that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty creates a permanent and binding obligation on Australia not to acquire nuclear weapons. We will not only honour that obligation, but this Government, in the country and around the world in all relevant forums, will do all in its efforts not merely to support that but to widen its application.

It is not inconsistent with any of this, nor with the steps being specifically taken to develop a nuclear free zone in the South Pacific-to which I shall refer later-for this Government to reject, as it does, this proposal from Senator Chipp to ban completely nuclear powered and possibly nuclear armed ships from Australian waters. What is the Government's position on this issue of nuclear powered and possibly nuclear armed ships in Australian waters? The basic position was set out in my speech in the Senate on 15 December last year during the debate on HMAS Invincible, as supplemented subsequently by a further public statement from the Defence Minister, Mr Scholes, on 26 February. For the record let me repeat that statement as clearly as I can. There are four basic strands in the Government's policy that are relevant to the subject matter of this legislation. The first is the proposition that the Australian Government will not allow nuclear arms on Australian soil. That proposition has been enunciated, as I said in December, with vigour and clarity by the present Government before the last election and certainly during our term of office. It is also, of course , consistent with the policy that has been adopted by our predecessors, the Liberal-National Party Government, at least so far as the B52 bomber issue was concerned. I mention in that respect that our Government has reaffirmed support for the arrangements by which United States Air Force B52 aircraft are permitted to stage through Australia or pass through Australian air space on navigation training or sea surveillance flights or both. These aircraft are not armed and the agreement of the Australian Government would be required for any modification of the existing agreement with the United States Government on the pattern of B52 flights.

The second strand of relevant policy relates to the visits of nuclear powered ships to Australian ports. Here again, as I said on 15 December:

. . . a clear bipartisan approach-perhaps even clearer than in the case of nuclear arms on Australian soil-has evolved over time and there is no question of that bipartisan approach being in any way at risk. The situation here is that nuclear powered vessels will be allowed to visit Australia subject to certain guidelines. Those guidelines were first laid down after some considerable period of discussion and negotiation by the then Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, in the House of Representatives on 4 June 1976. They have subsequently been slightly modified to take account of later developments including, in particular, the controversy around the proposed visit of a nuclear warship to Victoria in 1982. As they now stand, with only very minor modifications to the original 1976 statement, they are as follows--

I will read the guidelines again into the record:

(a) Visits will be for purposes such as crew rest and recreation and not for fuel handling or repair to reactor plant necessitating breach of reactor containment;

(b) Visits will be subject to satisfactory arrangements concerning liability and indemnity and to provision of adequate assurances relating to the operation and safety of the warships while they are in Australian waters;

(c) Movement of vessels must take place during daylight hours under conditions where visibility is not less than three quarters of a mile;

I suppose we will have to change that now to kilometres. I continued:

(d) Navigational controls on other shipping will be applied during the time that nuclear powered ships are entering or leaving ports;

(e) There must be a capability to remove the vessel either under its own power or under tow to a designated safe anchorage or to a designated distance to sea within the time frame specified for the particular berth or anchorage and in any case within 24 hours, if an accident should occur; and

(f) An operating safety organisation competent to carry out a suitable radiation monitoring program and able to initiate actions and provide services necessary to safeguard the public in the event of a release of radioactivity following an accident must exist for the port being visited.

There is no ambiguity or uncertainty about that particular policy statement, nor any disposition on the part of this Government to review or modify it in any way . In this respect I mention, when one is considering the question of nuclear powered ships, that over 40 per cent of the United States Navy's combatant ships are now nuclear powered. We are aware that this percentage will continue to rise . Restraint by Australia on port access for United States nuclear powered ships would create serious problems for the United States in planning its fleet deployments and operations. It also has to be said that no nuclear related problems of any kind have arisen in the past in respect of the many visits to Australia by US nuclear powered warships over the last eight years. I make those specific points in relation to the United States, but of course the policy that is here being enunciated is applicable to ships of other nations as well.

The third strand in the relevant policy relates to the visit of nuclear armed ships, or ships which may be nuclear armed, to Australian ports. Again, there is a long-standing bipartisan policy initiated by the previous Government and continued by the present Labor Government that we do not ask our allies either to confirm or deny whether nuclear weapons are being carried.

The final strand in the policy concerns the dry docking of ships armed with conventional weapons, or ships which may or may not be armed with non- conventional weapons, as the case may be. This was the issue that generated some controversy at the time of the visit of HMS Invincible last year. It was in that context that Mr Scholes, the Minister for Defence, made it clear, after reviewing the applicable policy in his statement of 26 February this year, that for the future:

. . . each request would have to be considered on its own merits taking into account technical and safety factors, and the strategic and operational circumstances obtaining at the time.

He went on to say:

. . . Australia would not in any way endanger the safety of any allied or friendly ship or crew in need of access to Australian facilities.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.